CHARLOTTESVILLE — Five games in 10 ten days isn’t ideal, let alone three in five days, but the New Palestine Dragons aren’t complaining, they’re revving up.
Building an 18-point lead only to watch it shrink to four points late on Thursday night, the Class 4A Dragons showed their resolve, fending off inter-county rival 2A Eastern Hancock to win 48-41.
“This was a big game for us. A big three-win week will only give us confidence heading into sectional (beginning Feb. 2),” New Palestine junior Raegan McMurray said. “As a team we held it together even though they came at us. It showed us just how strong of a team we are, how we can stay together and finish a game out.”
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Winning three of their last four since thumping of 2A Triton Central 49-26 on Jan. 14, the Dragons improved to 14-6 after their second game this week.
On Tuesday, they beat 3A Beech Grove 42-39 at home in overtime.
Against the host Royals (14-6), New Palestine charged out quickly, leading 21-8 early in the second quarter behind a 13-0 run.
The Dragons shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and buried 5 of 12 3-pointers while the Royals struggled to find their shot (7 of 24 from the floor).
Showing its tenacity on defense, New Palestine held Eastern Hancock 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half and 0-for-12 in the game.
“I really thought our defense in the first half, especially in the second quarter when I think we shut them out for about six minutes, it was as good as it gets,” New Palestine head coach Brian Kehrt said. “We saw what we were capable of against a pretty explosive offensive team.”
McMurray poured in a game-high 15 points and supplied a five-point swing in the third quarter that gave New Palestine it’s largest lead of the night at 34-16.
The Royals, who had won four of their last five games, put their fortitude on display, however, with a 19-point final frame.
“I was really pleased at how our girls were down and showed an extreme sense of fight. They showed a lot of heart and clawed their way back into it, rattled them and made a game of it,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “This time of the season, you like to see that kind of fight in your kids. I was very happy with their need and want to win.”
Trailing 39-24 in the fourth quarter, the Royals put together a 13-2 run that chipped away at the deficit as their full-court press flustered the Dragons momentarily.
Splitting a pair of free throws with 2:07 remaining in the game, Eastern Hancock’s Emiley Carlton sliced the margin to 41-37.
After a McMurray layup that made it a two-possession game at 43-37, Carlton again delivered off an assist from Kaysi Gilbert in the post to make it 43-39 with 1:25 left.
Carlton had a team-high 11 points and six rebounds followed by 10 points from Shelby King off the bench.
Though pressured, the Dragons converted 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to halt the Royals first win against their rivals since the 2001-02 season.
New Palestine has now won 18 of the team’s last 19 meetings, dating back the past 15 years.
“This was one of those catch ’em games. We’re playing five games in 10 days and three in five. We’re going to try to get that third one here. That would be a heck of a feather in our girls’ hats,” coach Kehrt said. “In the scheme of things, being in another close game and coming through is what we’ll have to deal with in the sectional. I thought we handled it well at the end.”
Senior Natalie Kehrt finished with 11 points and eight rebounds for the Dragons, which complete the week on the road at 4A Decatur Central on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
The Royals host Waldron at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.